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PHIL 2500: Environmental Issues

How to find authoritative, credible sources for your research paper


Welcome to the course guide for PHIL 2500: Environmental Issues! The purpose of this guide is to help you select credible sources for your research paper. Good luck with your searching!

Context, Context, Context

Whether or not a source is reliable depends on the context of your research. In some instances, you may not be able to find traditional peer-reviewed literature for topics such as:

  • popular culture
  • fringe movements
  • activities in other countries

In that case, you will have to do your best to determine whether alternative sources are reputable by evaluating them and using your common sense.

About Peer Review - It Has Some Problems

Peer review is the process of having peers in a discipline review a book or article manuscript before it is accepted for publication. Peer reviewers look at whether the correct research method was selected for the problem, the research method was conducted properly, the data is represented without bias, the conclusions follow from the study results, and more. Peer reviewed sources are usually considered the gold standard in academics.

But . . . here a few aspects of peer review to consider:

  • The topics that researchers study are often restricted to those of interest to grant-awarding institutions, e.g., NSF, NIH
  • University research is frequently funded by corporations
  • The majority of people can't understand or don't have access to peer-reviewed books and journals (the access part is improving)

So it is wise to be aware of other sources and how to evaluate them, otherwise you'll miss out on a lot of information in the world!

Questions to Ask about Sources

This guide will cover how to identify trustworthiness in a variety of sources, but here are some common questions you should ask about all sources.

  • Who is the author and what are the author's qualifications?
  • Is there reason to think the author would be biased? Can you balance that bias with other sources?
  • How current is the information and does that matter for your project?
  • Does the source appear to be official, having good grammar, word usage, design, etc.?

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